What is success? Holistic value creation, including enjoying a positive experience of work

What is success? My definition isn’t far off from the certification requirements for a B Corporation. These have evolved a lot since back in 2009 when I secured a BCorps badge for my former business, but the basic concept is the same: holistic value-creation.

Thus, I define success in business as the creation of sustainable financial and non-financial value in a way that includes everybody – owners, employees, contractors, customers, partners, community members, fellow citizens, and the environment itself. (Yes, that last bit encompasses flora and fauna.)

Which in turn means your business model designs for this kind of value creation – in fact, B Corps certification requires that your concretize such a business model by altering your company’s legally binding bylaws.

By this definition of success, Walmart is a total failure. For one thing (among many), it does the opposite of creating financial value for its fellow-citizen tax payers – by forcing them to subsidize its own underpaid and exploited workforce. 

And meanwhile, millions of unknown small businesses are successes.

As long as you’re defining success for your business, you might as well think about how that translates to your own success.

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As I have mentioned, you should explicitly define all the words important to your business. “Personal success” is probably on that list.

Personal success is harder to define because it’s subjective, cultural, arbitrary, messy, and fluid. The default definition (wealth, power, fame) comes from 17th C. puritan theologians who viewed financial achievement through hard work as evidence of God’s blessing. Some trace the coinage of the concept to a 1684 business and personal development book, “The Tradesman’s Calling”, by Richard Steele. 

Let the religious tradesman be excited to the practice of industry. It conduces much to our temporal prosperity; the diligent are usually blessed with plenty; and no doubt affluence is a blessing…

Popular culture may have a less Godly idea of success than in Steele’s time, but don’t we still suspect that hard work and getting financially rich are inherently virtuous?

If you don’t explain to yourself what a word means, you will use the explications of others. And they may ignore your best interests. If you don’t define your personal success as a participant in your business, then the legacy of Richard Steele will do it for you.

Other, non-financial factors to consider:

  • cultivation of expertise or artistry
  • influence over a group of people
  • quantity and quality of relationships
  • quality of spiritual experience
  • self-acceptance
  • lifestyle balance
  • the perfect cry-to-laughter ratio
  • contentment

I bet there are many more… the cultivators of lifestyle balance are usually blessed with the perfect cry-to-laughter ratio; and no doubt self-acceptance is a blessing

There’s another way to distance yourself from the Puritans’ idea of business or personal success, however. Stop thinking of it in terms of any subjective qualities, let alone objective metrics, tied to a point in time, such as your 30th birthday or your death. Instead, consider that success is an agreeable state of mind by which you (and your colleagues, clients, etc) experience the work you do today.

To your success,